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Wagner: Parsifal / Jaap Van Zweden, Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra

Release Date: 06/01/2011 
Label:  Challenge   Catalog #: 72519  
Composer:  Richard Wagner
Performer:  Katarina DalaymanFalk StruckmannKrister St. HillRobert Holl,   ... 
Conductor:  Jaap van Zweden
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Netherlands Radio Philharmonic OrchestraNetherlands Radio ChoirNetherlands State Male Choir
Number of Discs: 4 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

WAGNER Parsifal Jaap van Zweden, cond; Klaus Florian Vogt ( Parsifal ); Robert Holl ( Gurnemanz ); Falk Struckmann ( Amfortas ); Katarina Dalayman ( Kundry ); Krister St. Hill ( Klingsor ); Ante Jerkunica ( Titurel ); Netherlands R Ch; Latvia St Male Choir; Read more Netherlands RPO CHALLENGE CC72519 (4 SACDs: 246:04 Text and Translation) Live: Amsterdam 12/11/10

& DVD: Parsifal Excerpts (81:00)

Challenge Classics offers an impressive range of repertoire, from Viennese lute concertos through Peter Sculthorpe string quartets to the complete Bach cantata canon. The Dutch label has made its mark in the Wagner department as well with its recent CDs presenting symphonic syntheses of music from the Ring, Tristan, Die Meistersinger, and Parsifal. Those readings (reviewed in Fanfare 34:4) easily surpass those of Neeme Järvi on Chandos and are required listening for any Wagnerian. Now comes a complete concert performance of Parsifal led by Jaap van Zweden, two-thirds of which, at least, is highly recommendable.

Taking on the title part is Klaus Florian Vogt, who has established himself as the leading current exemplar of the less strenuous half of Wagner’s tenor roles. His voice is suitably heroic but also possesses the scope of lyrical expression necessary to represent Parsifal’s vulnerability, naiveté, and spiritual growth. When Vogt first opens his mouth in the final act, we know that Parsifal is a changed man with a new wisdom and maturity appropriate for the soon-to-be new leader of the Grail community; we know this not from what he sings, but from how he sings it. “Oh! Welchen Wunders höchstes Glück!” is positively radiant.

Robert Holl is an experienced Gurnemanz, still in top form with a plush, commanding bass that we are happy to hear so much of. Falk Struckmann, who seems to be the most ubiquitous Wagner singer of the day, is increasingly difficult to listen to when he portrays Wotan or Sachs, but the coarsening of his vocal texture seems appropriate for Amfortas: Without any scenery-chewing, we understand the King’s mental and physical anguish. Like Struckmann, Katarina Dalayman represents Kundry’s tortured psyche without hysteria and is warmly seductive in act II.

For the outer acts, van Zweden’s pacing is excellent, beginning with an act I prelude that, while devotional and solemn, is not overly slow, allowing the listener to appreciate the tragedy implied by the major/minor contrast of the first two lengthy phrases. The act III prelude is drenched with the same sort of dark melancholia as the opening of Tristan ’s final tableau. Van Zweden shows us that—whatever your feelings are about Wagner’s final opera—the composer had, at the end of his career, reached a new level in terms of erecting a musico-dramatic structure with unparalleled emotional power.

It’s a little disappointing to report that the middle act isn’t as successful. Contributing to this failure is the bland Klingsor of Krister St. Hill, who doesn’t sound especially evil, bitter, powerful, or castrated. (Challenge Classics seems to be acknowledging that he’s a liability by omitting his name from the set’s back cover and cardboard CD sleeves, when they include the vocal credit for the Erster Knappe.) Apart from St. Hill’s shortcomings, van Zweden’s pacing isn’t as exemplary as in the outer acts, and a sense of a building erotic crisis is lacking. The Kiss doesn’t register as the time-stopping climax that it should.

The orchestral playing is outstanding, winds and brasses in particular. The Netherlands Radio Choir provides Heavenly Voices and, complemented by the 23 tenors and basses of the Latvia State Male Choir, the Knights of the Grail. Squires, youths, and Flower Maidens are all more than satisfactory. Especially in surround, there’s an appealing spaciousness to the sound, the engineers providing a convincing mid-hall perspective in the Concertgebouw without any loss of impact. The Parsifal bells are wonderfully rich in overtones.

The 120-page booklet contains the libretto in German only, but there are notes on the performers, a comprehensive essay, and a plot synopsis printed in English, German, and Dutch. As a bonus, Challenge includes an 81-minute DVD with 10 generous excerpts from the performance. It’s fun to see once, but the sub-CD Dolby Digital sound is a real comedown from the high-resolution program of the SACD layer of the audio discs.

FANFARE: Andrew Quint
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Works on This Recording

Parsifal by Richard Wagner
Performer:  Katarina Dalayman (Soprano), Falk Struckmann (Baritone), Krister St. Hill (Baritone),
Robert Holl (Bass), Klaus Florian Vogt (Tenor)
Conductor:  Jaap van Zweden
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra,  Netherlands Radio Choir,  Netherlands State Male Choir
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1877-1882; Germany 

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